Boris Johnson has held talks with his former finance minister Rishi Sunak as a key deadline looms in the race to replace Liz Truss as British Prime Minister, media outlets in the United Kingdom are reporting.
The two men have become the early favorites to replace Truss, who announced her resignation Thursday just six weeks into a term that threw Britain into political and economic turmoil.
Though neither of them has formally declared their candidacy, Sunak has reached the 100-nomination threshold to make it to the voting stage and Johnson’s allies said he had returned to the country from a holiday in the Caribbean with the intention of joining the race, PA news reported.
A runoff between the two men could prove divisive for the ruling Conservative party, not least because many of Johnson’s supporters blame Sunak’s resignation in July for sparking the downfall of his government. Some outlets have speculated that the two men could strike some kind of deal.
The BBC’s sources said the meeting took place but “it wasn’t disclosed what they discussed,” while Britain’s PA Media news agency reported the two “were said to be locked in talks late into the evening” Saturday.
Sky News, meanwhile, referred to the meeting as a “secret summit.”
If either – or both – of the two men do decide to run, they will be up against Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, the first and so far only Member of Parliament to have officially entered the race.
The last time the Conservatives held a leadership race – following the demise of Johnson’s government – Truss came first, Sunak second and Mordaunt third.
Graham Brady, the Conservative official responsible for the process, has said any candidate must receive at least 100 nominations from the party’s MPs by 2 p.m. local time Monday.
The threshold effectively narrows the field of potential candidates to a maximum of three as the party has 357 MPs.
If only one candidate meets that threshold, they will automatically become leader. Otherwise, the remaining candidates will be put to an online vote by Conservative Party members which will close on Friday October 28.
Truss resigned on Thursday, just six weeks into her disastrous term that pitched Britain deep into political and economic turmoil. Her successor will be the fifth PM to lead the country since it voted for Brexit in 2016.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel on Saturday became one of the most high-profile supporters of Johnson in his quest to become PM. “Boris has the mandate to deliver our elected manifesto and a proven track record getting the big decisions right,” she said in a tweet.
But his possible return to the top job has split opinions within the Conservative Party, with many lawmakers horrified at the prospect of a second Johnson premiership.
Even his former deputy prime minister and foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC, “we cannot go backwards” and pointed out that Johnson faces a probe into the so-called partygate scandal into illegal gatherings in Downing Street.
The former PM is expected to appear in the next few weeks before the Commons Privileges Committee which is investigating whether he misled Parliament over the parties, which could potentially see him suspended or expelled as an MP.